Blencowe Families’ Association Newsletter Vol. 23 No. 4 November 2008

Contact with distant cousins helps fill the gaps in the family history story

Before the Port Macquarie reunion I tried in vain to contact descendants of all the various branches of my family who arrived in Tasmania from Brackley on 31 August 1830. Therefore it was quite a shock to receive a membership recently from Bob & Clancy Walker. Bob's great, great grandmother, Selinda Blencowe is the sister of my great, great grandfather, George.

John Blencowe was engaged as a wheelwright by the fine wool company, Van Diemen''s Land Company, at Circular Head on the isolated northwest tip of Tasmania. Circular Head is now known as “The Nut” near Stanley. John migrated with his wife, Mary and three small children; George, Thomasine and John. It was originally thought that Selinda had been born on the ship but her birth is registered at Launceston as Celinda on 31 July 1833. Selinda was the first of three children to be born in Tasmania.

In March 1838, the family sailed to Kangaroo Island, possibly in charge of some of the first sheep to be sent there. From there it is assumed that the family went by ketch to Adelaide, South Australia. As Port Adelaide had not been developed, there were very few conveniences. Rowing boats shuttled passengers to within a few metres of the shore from where they waded through water then squelching mud and mangroves to reach the shore. They were watched by welcoming bands of Aborigines who found mirth at their discomfort and begged for biscuits and tobacco. While the boat was unloaded, the new arrivals spent the night in makeshift shelters of reeds and tents whilst fighting off hordes of mosquitoes.

The next day, the passengers were transported by wagon, a hired cart or simply walked carrying their few belongings in linen bags, baskets and boxes the seven miles along the dusty track to Adelaide which was just a small village built beside the Torrens River.

For a short time our family lived in dug-outs in the banks of the Torrens River alongside hostile Aborigines, before obtaining lodgings in South Terrace, Adelaide where in 1841 John was listed as a “painter and glazier”. John and his sons turned their hands at many occupations before shifting into the hills in the 1850s. In 1863 John received a grant of land in Saw Pits Valley of One Tree Hill and became a farmer.

On 24 December 1850, Selinda Blencowe married John Westerland. John was a Swedish lad who had been at sea for 14 years as a ship's carpenter. They settled near Selinda's parents at One Tree Hill. On their farm they had cows, pigs, bullocks and a vineyard. They made their own wine, grew wheat which was cut by hand with sickles and carted by bullock and dray, and grew corn which was tramped out by the bullocks before it was cleaned. Nine of their eleven children were born in South Australia.

Selinda & John sold their farm in 1867 and braving the Christmas heat left for Terang, Victoria in covered drays. There were four bullocks in one team and six in another. Their supplies included three bags of flour; big jars of butter, bacon and other food. Many Aborigines came to their camps and travelled a good few miles with them. All went well until they arrived at Hamilton. Here, the bullocks drank near a rubbish depot and became very sick, so they had to camp about seven miles out of Hamilton for two weeks. After eleven weeks on the road they arrived at Terang where they settled in the parish of Ecklin where Selinda's brother John and wife Emma were already living.

A series of disasters then occurred. There was sickness amongst the children and the cattle, resulting in many deaths including three children dying within three months. John decided to seek some other locality. He toured the Mount Gambier District and visited the Penola and Naracoorte areas and finally the Laen District, about 10 miles east of Minyip where a relative of Selinda was working some land. John selected 196 acres here and arranged for the rest of the family to come. From Terang to Stawell the journey was made by train. They travelled the last fifty miles in a horse drawn dray. The year was 1876.

As John and Selinda's children had either died or married by this time, they only had Robert (12), George (10) and Elizabeth (6) left. John was starting to lose his sight. They had a difficult struggle to make ends meet but eventually on 21 August 1893 they made their last payment on their 196 acres. John died in 1897 and Selinda in 1908 aged 75. Six of their 11children did not reach adulthood.

The lives of John and Mary Blencowe did not amount to much in their new homeland. However, their courage, determination and a spirit of adventure must have been instilled in their children, most of whom, like Selinda and John Westerland spread throughout South Australia, NSW and Victoria, taking on enormous journeys to become pioneers in newly developing areas of Australia.

Bob Walker, Maurine Work (The Book from page 245) and Anne Burton represent the descendants of three of John and Mary Blencowe's children. Each branch went in a different direction; however, by getting in touch we have been able to combine the research and family folklore of the three strands to extend our knowledge of the hardships that our immigrant family faced.

Bob Walker & Anne Burton

updated: 26 January 2009